Creative and artistic spirits have long been attracted to Pasadena. Leading architects and designers synonymous with the American Arts & Crafts movement called Pasadena home in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1922, the Pasadena Art Institute was founded by a group of local residents with a mission to create a museum and encourage fine art education—today, their efforts live in what is now the Norton Simon Museum. Pasadena-based business magnates like Norton Simon and Henry Huntington were among the prominent art collectors and benefactors whose legacies remain evident today in the community’s rich arts and culture landscape. The respected ArtCenter College of Design relocated to Pasadena in 1976, attracting contemporary artists and designers who would go on to become influential filmmakers, car designers, product designers and illustrators—the arts education program continues to thrive and foster globally recognized innovators. The performing arts have an equally deep-rooted and prominent presence in Pasadena, between the Pasadena Playhouse established in 1917, the Pasadena Symphony founded in 1928 and the hundreds of feature films produced on location here. Countless actors and major Hollywood talents still call Pasadena home today—and can even be spotted gracing local stages. When your muse is calling, immerse yourself in the art and soul of Pasadena at these eight attractions.
The Norton Simon
The Norton Simon is a gem of an art museum—the intimate size combined with the astounding quality of the major works on display from industrialist Norton Simon’s personal collection makes for a blissful experience wandering through the galleries and gardens. On display now through June 17 is a special Matisse/Odalisque exhibition exploring the theme of the odalisque—a reclining nude or concubine that was a popular subject in European art throughout the colonial period. The exhibit features pictures by Henri Matisse, Frédéric Bazille and Pablo Picasso, among others. Mark your calendar for The Sweetness of Life: Three 18th-Century French Paintings from The Frick Collection, which will be on display June 14-September 9. Works by François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Greuze will be installed in the museum’s 18th-century Rococo gallery alongside its own works by Chardin and Boucher, as well as paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The Norton Simon will kick off summer with their annual Garden Party June 29, which promises to be a memorable evening exploring the sights and sounds of the Sculpture Garden, inspired by Monet’s Giverny.
411 West Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Closed Tuesdays; children under 18 are free, tickets $12- $15.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington is one of Pasadena’s cultural crown jewels—the library, art collections and botanical gardens are a sight to behold and delight to explore. It’s a place you can return to again and again given the ever-changing outdoor landscape, compelling special exhibitions and vastness of the library of manuscripts, books and photographs. Two bronze sculptures and a painting by contemporary Cuban-American artist Enrique Martínez Celaya were recently installed, marking the start of a multiyear visual arts partnership with the artist. In the Art Gallery now through September 30, you can bear witness to “Project Blue Boy,” as The Blue Boy (1770) by English painter Thomas Gainsborough undergoes its first major technical examination and conservation treatment in public view. Outside, see the gardens transform into a riot of color this spring—including the three-acre Rose Garden showcasing more than 1,200 different cultivated varieties. Don’t miss The Huntington’s popular Annual Plant Sale on April 27, when you can get your hands on the beautiful new “Huntington’s 100th” floribunda rose introduced to commemorate their upcoming centennial—the 100th anniversary celebration begins in September.
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Closed Tuesdays; tickets $13 to $29.
USC Pacific Asia Museum
USC’s Pacific Asia Museum (PAM) completed a major renovation project in late 2017 that transformed the visitor experience and included a major update to the featured works on display. Established in 1971, the museum remains focused on furthering intercultural understanding through the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands—one of just a few U.S. museums dedicated to the region. The collection of more than 17,000 objects spans four thousand years. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum is known for its ground-breaking special exhibitions and engaging events. Now through July 14, see Tsuruya Kōkei: Modern Kabuki Prints Revised & Revisited celebrating the 30th anniversary of the artist’s first solo show, which was held at PAM in spring of 1989. Kōkei is regarded as one of Japan’s leading contemporary print artists and the exhibition showcases 77 works in a thought-provoking examination of the complex issues of identity in Kabuki—where actors take on multiple roles and males take on female roles—to explore broader questions of self-definition and its representation.
46 North Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; tickets $7-$10.
Armory Center for the Arts
An independent institution for contemporary art and community arts education, the Armory Center for the Arts hosts exhibitions, forums, screenings and events. Current exhibitions on display through May 12 include a retrospective of the pioneering, prolific and underrecognized Pasadena native artist, Sara Kathryn Arledge. Sara Kathryn Arledge: Serene for the Moment showcases her experimental films and works on paper. Through May 14, you can also see Sandra de la Loza: Mi Casa Es Su Casa, an immersive installation of photography, video and sound that explores conflicting ideas about home through the lens of Mexican-American Southern California-based artist, Sandra de la Loza.
145 North Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Closed Tuesdays, admission is free.
Pasadena Museum of History
Pasadena Museum of History is home of the region’s largest collection of historic artifacts and gardens housed in an idyllic residential setting. The two-acre estate features the museum’s main exhibition galleries along with the Beaux Arts-style Fenyes Mansion, a Finnish Folk Art Museum and lush gardens. Take an hour-long docent-led tour of the mansion which has been designated a Pasadena Cultural Heritage landmark for a glimpse of life on “Millionaire’s Row.” See the original furnishings and family heirlooms that belonged to Dr. Adalbert and Eva Fenyes—including their impressive collection of California plein air paintings. Visit soon to see the current exhibition in its final weeks in the History Center’s gallery: Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960. On display through April 13, the exhibition of 300 works demonstrates a long history of excellence in female-created art.
470 West Walnut St., Pasadena. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; tickets $8-$17.
The Gamble House
Designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company, the Gamble House is a flawless example of American Arts & Crafts architecture. The National Historic Landmark is aptly described as “Architecture as Fine Art.” Docent-led tours offered Thursdays through Sundays are the only way to gain access to the house. If you’re a true design buff, book the “Behind the Velvet Ropes” tour for a more in-depth, two-and-a-half-hour tour that delves into the home’s nooks and crannies. The specialized two-hour “Fire & Light” tour is dedicated exclusively to the home’s leaded art glass, while the “Details & Joinery” tour examines the fine woodworking craftsmanship.
4 Westmoreland Pl., Pasadena. Closed Mondays & Wednesdays; tickets $12.50-$15.
The State Theatre of California, Pasadena Playhouse is one of the leading performing arts institutions in the Golden State and one of the most prolific theatre companies in the country. The upcoming spring show slated for the main stage is Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the New York Times bestseller by Cheryl Strayed (Wild). Adapted by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Tiny Beautiful Things is about reaching when you’re stuck, healing when you’re broken and finding the courage to take on the questions which have no answers. On April 29, the company will join the 5th annual National Jewish Theater Foundation Holocaust Theater International Initiative’s Remembrance Readings with The Wall, by Millard Lampell, based on the novel by John Hersey. Back by popular demand, The Playhouse Block Party will return for its second year on June 8. More than 20 performances will take place on two stages between noon and 10:00 p.m., along with a full slate of artistic activities, backstage tours, food trucks, a kids’ zone and much more family-friendly fun.
39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena. See website for showtimes and ticket prices.
Pasadena Symphony & POPS
Established in 1938, Pasadena Symphony & POPS (PSP) is Pasadena’s premier classical orchestra. Since its founding, the Pasadena Symphony has become one of the top performing symphonic ensembles in all of Southern California. What makes PSP standout so exceptionally is its gifted musicians, who largely work in the motion picture film industry. Their extensive film, television, recording and orchestral industry credits make them among the most heard musicians in the world. Catch a performance at the Ambassador Auditorium—considered the “Carnegie Hall of the West”—or the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, the summer POPS series venue. Two more performances remain in the current Symphony Classics Series: Mahler Symphony No. 1 “Titan” (March 23) and Beethoven Symphony No. 5 (May 4). The summer POPS season then kicks off June 22 with The Great American Songbook: Icons from Tin Pan Alley, Broadway & Hollywood. The summer season runs through September.
Locations vary by concert series. See websites for showtimes and ticket prices.
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